After our three-hour ramble up hill and down touring the three abandoned, ruined medieval castles in around-freezing fog, some of us were hungry and some were thirsty, and all chilly, so we looked for a place to eat. Problem: the time was almost 4pm. Not a meal-time in France. We stopped at an auberge with lights on. The bartender was standing outside in his apron, smoking. I asked him doubtfully whether we could eat. He wasn't scornful at all, only discouraging: he flatly stated that it was a "ville morte" (a dead town) and we weren't likely to find anything to eat, especially at this hour. He said it had been very busy at noon, but as of 3pm it had been empty, and wouldn't serve again until 6:30pm. He suggested perhaps we might find a boulangerie or somesuch back in Colmar.
We kept our eyes open as we headed that way, and spotted a boulangerie not two minutes down the road, still in Ribeauvillé: La Renommé, a boulangerie at 3, route de Colmar, sister to this one elsewhere in the village. The branch we chose is too small (and new) to have bothered to make a website for itself. David turned around to go back, as we had passed it in our zero-expectations for the town. I hopped out and ran in to check what they had. A very friendly redhead with a tattoo on her lower back where the baker's apron had scrunched up her shirt greeted me and assured me she could make fresh sandwiches for us on their baguette bread. There were other assorted pastries in the glass cases. The family agreed to come in for chicken or ham and cheese on fresh bread. Once inside, however, we decided on sharing around merely some warmed-up curried chicken quiche (to which our hostess happily added tasty salad), an family-sized traditional Alsatian brioche with raisins inside and almonds & powered sugar on top (called a Kugelhopf), a pain au chocolat, an éclair au chocolat, a slice of blueberry tart, an apricot juice, three hot chocolates, an espresso, and two bottles of still water. We thought that would do it.
There were exactly two two-seater tables, i.e. four chairs, perfect for our family. Our happy redhead quickly wiped off the two little tables for us, which were on the edge of the kitchen. Two of us were really sitting in the baker's area, and two in the store front. The right number of chairs notwithstanding, there were only one little spoon and one hot chocolate mug in the whole establishment, so the kids received their hot chocolate in bowls with large soup spoons. David lucked out in that they did have an espresso cup, but the lady couldn't find a second small spoon, so she was going to take my hot chocolate spoon and wash it for him, until I explained we'd been married for 20 years now and he wouldn't mind re-using my spoon :-) Indeed.
As we were delighting in the fresh fare, the baker lady went about her business and laid 20 baguette dough lengths on a special contraption that then deposited them into an enormous oven near our tables. We overheard her inform another customer that they would be coming out in 20 minutes. Light bulbs went on in our heads. We came up rather easily with the determination to stretch out our visit for another little bit, and when the loaves exited the oven, our new friend picked one up off the conveyor, dropped it into a bag, and handed it to us, all warm, fragrant, crispy and soft at the same time, and we were on our way (but not without an emergency fresh chocolate chip cookie in another little bag; you never know, the bread might not be enough). By the time we got home 2 hours later (having passed from France, through Germany, back into Switzerland), there were 2 centimetres of bread left. We forgot all about the cookie until we reached our garage.
Here you see the conveyor-to-oven-and-back. Ingenious. The 19 other loaves ended up in the lady's wicker baguette basket for sale for locals' dinner tables (last bread baked at 5pm daily). Ours bypassed the basket completely. And the dinner table.
Vive la France! And thanks be to God for a wonderful overnight in Alsace; for special, unexpected treats; and for fun family memories created.